Indigenous Children Left Hungrier Under New CDP Penalties
Thursday, 27th September 2018 at 8:28 am
Indigenous children would be left hungrier than they already are under tough new penalties proposed as part of reforms to the remote work-for-the-dole program, a Senate inquiry has heard.
Indigenous advocates told a Senate Committee last Friday that existing penalties under the Community Development Program (CDP) were already leaving people hungry, and putting a severe strain on families.
The government has attempted to amend the program by imposing a new compliance system based on a system of demerit points, but advocates said these changes would only make things worse.
The proposed Targeted Compliance Framework (TCF) would mean those failing to complete work would have their payments suspended which – unlike the old system – was non-waivable.
Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said TCF would see vulnerable people being denied welfare payments for weeks on end, even if they were going hungry or in debt.
“CDP already subjects remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to the indignity of having to work more for less,” Walters said.
“If the government gets its way, parents will be left without money for food, fuel, rent and other basic necessities for four weeks no matter how dire their situation.”
The government argues that the changes simply bring CDP participants – of whom more than 80 per cent are Indigenous – in line with the rest of Australia.
But Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told Pro Bono News it was unfair for the government to move the CDP compliance framework in line with the rest of Australia when the CDP was much stricter than other work-for-the-dole programs.
CDP participants currently have to work up to 500 hours more per year than those covered by metropolitan work-for-the-dole programs, and were 25 times more likely to be fined than other work-for-the-dole participants.
Siewert said the committee heard kids in the community were so hungry they were breaking into stores just to take food.
“And we will see the impacts of poverty worsen under these reforms because people will be left without money,” Siewert said.
As part of the revamped CDP, mandatory work hours will be reduced from 25 hours per week, to 20 hours per week.
The government also said it would provide 6,000 subsidised jobs across remote Australia.
Liberal Senator Anne Ruston said the reforms were in direct response to feedback from communities, and would move more people off welfare and into jobs, improving outcomes across Australia.
But during Friday’s hearing, many community groups said they were not consulted about the changes.
David Woodroffe, principal legal officer of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, said for years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations were dealing with the damage caused by the CDP.
“Rather than adding more penalties, there is a real need to address the factors that are driving high penalty rates already, such as barriers to accessing supports for vulnerable people and more onerous work obligations,” Woodroffe said.